Make-Believe: Too Late For Google To Make Android A Privacy-Oriented OS

The figurative ground whereat Android landed last week is still warm, and yet Google is already promising its next operating system revision will solve so many of our privacy woes we'll just forget about its social media gaffe and other recent controversies threatening the very notion of personal information.

Yes, of course, it's not that it literally said so but just reading through the privacy portion of the Android Q Beta 1 announcement is an exercise in keeping a straight face. I mean, Google is probably watching and it best not determine who exactly finds its misfortunes amusing.

But what is there to do when a company whose entire business model is synonymous with the erosion of global digital privacy vows to be the protector of its most basic principles. Do note that this isn't even meant to say Google is wrong to sell invasive advertising for money, ethical concerns stemming from such activity only became a thing recently as the rare individual who raised them several years back was sooner branded a paranoid conspiracy theorist than a voice deserving of being heard.

Talk of stricter federal privacy laws was also an on-and-off affair for over half a decade now, more off than on. Yet as Google started losing friends in high places following the 2016 presidential election which likely shocked even the foreign powers identified by the Mueller report that worked toward its very outcome, it also started getting involved in clashes with top officials of the ideologically close DNC.

Yes, I digress, but not by much; the point being is that Google's now running low on political goodwill and Android Q comes at a time when it's more likely than ever to start feeling the wrath of a privacy-minded legislature. In fact, no one is indifferent to the amount of power it now yields, so the irony of its facade of unity and amicable discourse is that the two sides of the political spectrum in the country, despite being further away from each other than ever before, standing at a scarily polarizing point in American history, might actually forget their many differences for a short while so as to stay united - against Google.

That isn't to say the GOP and DNC's priorities regarding potential privacy legislation are identical but they're major enough for both sides to be willing to sit together and negotiate, which is more than what can be said about... anything politically relevant as of late, really.

Due to that state of affairs, Google is now pacing not to turn Android into a privacy-oriented OS but to rebrand it as one. That's why e.g. you have Android Q set to randomize your MAC address by default, which is meant to inhibit tracking efforts initiated by public Wi-Fi providers like shopping malls, restaurant chains, or I don't know - Google itself.

Nevermind the fact Google is still in the process of evading a scandal caused by him not respecting user-set digital privacy limits en masse. No, we're now supposed to believe it'll respect those it imposes upon itself.

In fact, Alphabet's subsidiary even came up with an entirely new dimension of Android location permissions so as to provide users with more granular control over that sensitive data - and coincidentally legitimize the very gray area wherein it violated user defaults in the past. What's that? A tiny bit of innocent children profiling and you're the bad guy already? Times-a-changing, especially for digital giants who built their empires on the back of innumerable pools of data harvested from the users of their "free" services over the years.

It's only now, over ten years following Android's debut, that Google is trying to curb the extent whereat third-party apps are able to snoop through one's communications, even when they have no business being anywhere near that info, simply thanks to the fact they've risked with asking for a critical permissions and at an opportune moment and managed to trick their user into granting one. Naturally, Google is still free to sift through this data whenever it sees fit, you just have to trust it won't misuse that ability, just check its stellar record with consumer information.

Granted, no company in any industry can come anywhere close to Google's size without making countless mistakes along the way. Yet that's precisely the point - no single corporate entity driven purely by profit should ever be allowed to yield such power. Google is in way over its head, Android has been built from the ground up with advertising in mind, and no amount of tweaking and feel-good stories will change that.

Sure, Google will announce some kind of a game streaming console in a couple of hours and everyone will forget about all of this for a while, yet the fact remains that Android is now being presented as something that it simply cannot be, a purpose-built OS meant to ensure the privacy of its users. Google's only consolation is that it doesn't have to pretend it's putting Facebook through a similar situation but that doesn't change the fact Android Q marks the beginning of the end of the company's highly flexible reign over user data and massive changes are indubitably on the horizon.

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About the Author
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Dominik Bosnjak

Head Editor
Dominik started at AndroidHeadlines in 2016 and is the Head Editor of the site today. He’s approaching his first full decade in the media industry, with his background being primarily in technology, gaming, and entertainment. These days, his focus is more on the political side of the tech game, as well as data privacy issues, with him looking at both of those through the prism of Android. Contact him at [email protected]